by Matt Smith
“There’s a lot of you out there, holy s***!” Drew Gasparini exclaimed, when he stepped out to address the crowd during a break in his Feinstein’s/54 Below show, held earlier this week.
Indeed, the typically-intimate venue was packed with concertgoers of all ages, eager to embark on a musical journey through Gasparini’s career. The man of the hour did not disappoint, offering a eclectic selection of “funky goodness” from projects past, present and future, all of which demonstrated his effortless ability to bounce from one musical genre to the other.
To boot, anyone worried they’d be lost on a given song’s context — considering they were all presented a) as standalones, and b) out of order — was soon put at ease, as the numbers were organized in a way wherein the show’s throughline still remained clear and intact. For example, selections from his musical, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, included “I Want” songs from both the male and female leads, as well as the introductory number where the two of them meet. Showcasing the show with these tunes allowed us to catch a glimpse of the before-and-after, and see, albeit only slightly, how the two characters could affect each other throughout the course of the musical in full.
Two more numbers that exemplified a similar throughline included the beautiful “More than Most,” and “Bear in a Dress,” a cleverly worded metaphor referencing the misunderstood main character. (The lyrics read, “While others see a monster, he’s just a bear in a dress”).
Of note, both these selections came from the new, in-the-works musical, “The Whipping Boy,” which is, as of now, yet to be seen in full. For that reason, it was a genius choice to have the songs from this show either preceded or followed by a lengthier bit of dialogue (sometimes even a full scene), to flesh out and provide context for what the audience was about to see, fully setting the scene, and ultimately, peaking their interest in finding out more. (Spoiler alert: It totally worked!!)
After witnessing this concert, there’s no doubt in my mind Gasparini is a force to be reckoned with. I’ll admit before this concert, I only knew his work from NBC’s Smash (but even that was enough to sell me on a ticket for this show!), but I am completely sold on his music from here on out. A refreshing blend of “Jason Mraz meets Andy Grammer,” Gasparini possesses the gift of relating to the struggling 20-something — that guy or girl searching for either their path in life, or for a release from their internal thoughts — through his lyrics.
His words provide a poignant commentary on the simple things we take for granted, urging us to consider them anew. Favorites include: “Isn’t it weird how nobody takes the time to make first impressions?,” “Life can be given or taken away,” “He’s not bad, he’s not good, he’s just misunderstood,” and of course, “Life is about the adventure you make it.” He also brilliantly roots each musical (at least, those presented here) in themes relating to finding and celebrating love — both with another person, and within yourself.
These themes of love and support were even further exemplified by the fact that his younger sisters, Kasie and Chloe Gasparini, both standouts for the record, were among the evening’s performers. In particular, Kasie delivered a stirring rendition of “Noelle’s Cuts” (the aforementioned female lead number from Funny Story) while Chloe blew the roof off the place with her Demi Lovato-esque belt in “Float,” a standalone number for which she also contributed lyrics.
But the highlight of the night IMO came when School of Rock’s Alex Brightman joined his “Whipping Boy” writing partner onstage, and the two offered the moving duet, “A Fine Companion,” which Gasparini acknowledged had an extra special meaning, considering the relationship of its writers. (“I’m getting emotional,” he croaked, mid-song). Indeed, with Brightman at his side, the lyrics couldn’t be more pertinent, perfectly encapsulating the bond between two friends: “With a friend, you’re not alone,” and “This adventure’s never ending, now that we’re becoming friends.” The fact that it was acoustic was simply the icing on the cake, slowing down the high-octane evening at just the perfect time.
A short selection of jazz standards (featuring pianist Louis Sacco) was capped off by a raucous finale, aptly titled “The Wind Up,” which saw all his supporters and fellow performers join him onstage in solidarity. An electric evening indeed!